There is truth to these – I think we used just about all of these last summer.
I love these guys!
It is 8:45 and I am riding up Pine Street like any other morning, having safely navigated all the traffic on my route from Lower Queen Anne. As I approach the Central Co-Op my groggy eyes notice something unfamiliar coming towards me: a giant blue box on wheels. A second glance reveal this box is actually piloted by a guy pedaling away on what appears to be a very sophisticated cargo bike. He must be lost…this is not Europe. Heck, it is not even Portland. Silly guy, bikes are for Portlandia.
The cargo bike I saw belongs to Freewheel, a new start-up providing “carbon-free cargo” for “last-mile delivery.” A passion for cycling and sustainability inspired CEO Dan Kohler to start Freewheel as a way to address the counter-intuitive nature of many urban delivery systems. While delivery drivers sit in traffic Dan zooms by using a combination of bike lanes and side-streets too narrow for large delivery vehicles. While drivers search for parking or block traffic and risk parking tickets to find a nearby space, Dan pulls right up to the door and starts unloading. While those delivery trucks consume gallons of fuel everyday, Dan just needs some food and water. Freewheel is not just delivering time-sensitive packages or picking up lunch like other bicycle delivery companies; it is providing a high-quality delivery service that reduces pollution and contributes less to congestion and parking shortages. Simply put, Freewheel is redefining urban business delivery in Seattle.
So if sensibility is what makes Freewheel a successful business, what makes it good for Seattle cycling? Well, to answer that I think about the lessons I learned from a semester studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. In Denmark bikes outnumber people and cargo bikes are just as common as minivans in the U.S. Hundreds of miles of bike lanes, bike “superhighways,” and aggressive bike policy contribute to the nearly one-third of Copenhagen citizens commuting by bike, but the real factor of success is culture. Bikes outnumber cars in Copenhagen 5:1 and make up about a third of all commuter travel (CPH Bicycle Account). In Copenhagen cycling is not a niche activity but rather something everyone enjoys as a way to get to work, school, the store, and just about everywhere else. And by everyone, I really mean everyone:
– Photos courtesy of Cycle Chic. I LOVE this site, but you will see the same thing if you Google image search “Copenhagen bicycle”
By comparison, 40% of Seattleites lack access to a working bicycle. Two-thirds of people who ride at least a few times a year do so primarily for recreation. And less than 10% of Seattleites ride daily (SDOT). The difference in culture is clear:
– Photos from Google Images.
Seattle’s cycling scene is largely dominated by guys in $300 spandex suits and hipsters rocking interesting accessories. Where are the business people with their briefcases and shiny shoes? Where are the dads escorting their kids to school or moms hauling the twins to day care? Where are the grandparents riding to their local retiree group? Where are the people hauling groceries in their cargo bikes?
While I am still holding on to the hope that I will see the streets filled with these types of riders tomorrow, I know Seattle is not culturally prepared for this type of bicycling. However, Freewheel is a small but important piece in beginning a transition towards a more holistic cycling culture. Freewheel is extending biking into the business realm in a serious way. The bike itself brings significant visibility to cycling. Through advertising partnerships with local favorites like Molly’s Grown to Eat and Middle Fork Roasters, Freewheel is showcasing the importance of cycling in connecting businesses to build strong networks that support the local economy and pave the way for more sustainable futures.
Freewheel is already capitalizing on Seattle’s rich fascination with coffee and local/organic produce. As the company’s success grows and word spreads, I am confident we will see a wider range of business taking Freewheel seriously. Dan keeps the details of new partnerships under wraps, but he assures me he is working on new interesting and iconic delivery opportunities. More than anything, Freewheel’s focus on cargo bike deliveries is exactly what Seattle’s bicycle culture needs: a healthy dose of utilitarian functionality.
-Freewheel is bringing cycling functionality to Seattle.
Wish I could have starred in this article…it exactly describes my lifestyle. “Car-free” is a bit heavy, especially when the transit system is imperfect and (as we are seeing in Seattle) underfunded. Once bike-ability and transit suitability catch up, I could imagine never using a car. But until then a Car2Go here and there can fill in the gaps in an otherwise car free lifestyle. Affordable, healthy, intentional, sustainable – these are the words I use to describe a car-lite life. Sure, sometimes it is a pain in the ass (a 15 minute drive could take 1.5 hours during late night times), but it is worth it.
Case in point: I run home from work a lot. Last Friday I ran home in 23 minutes. I realized I forgot my keys, and so decided to get a Car2Go to take back to work (I was not feeling a 7.5 mile run and I could not get my bike without my keys). The Car2Go ride took me 45 minutes round trip – exactly the same as my running pace. Minus the healthy benefits.
Seattle Magazine | Arts & Culture/News & Features | Is it Possible to Live Car-Free in Seattle?.
Woohoo! Just in the last week construction on Mercer St. under Aurora Ave took a huge step forward by providing a temporary bike and pedestrian path on the North side of Mercer St. While not perfect it will definitely make it easier for everyone using this area and will give a much-needed westbound connection for cyclists. Personally, I am just glad I no longer need to cruise down the center line on Mercer to get through the morning rush hour!
Think these guys are crazy to stand in the middle of the intersection with a truck coming? Perhaps in the United States, but in the Netherlands it is not a big deal. I mentioned the Netherlands last week with Hovenring, the world’s first suspended bike circle. Here is a quick piece highlighting some of the ways the Dutch mentality towards transportation development has been quite different from that of the United States.
Here’s the thing: everyone I know in the USA who is talking about bicycle infrastructure is talking about costs. How much will it cost us to move a few bikes? Is it worth it when we know car travel supports a much larger volume of transport? Will bike infrastructure…
It goes on forever. Here is the thing though: it is not all about costs. The Netherlands knows this well. Ask any hardcore cyclist, bike enthusiast, or casual biker with any intellectual interest in bike transport and they will tell you the Netherlands is a global icon of cycling. This is because they have developed this as their brand. Take, for instance, the Hovenring: the world’s first suspended bicycle roundabout. I guarantee this fails any traditional cost-benefit analysis but it sure does look epic. The Netherlands did not just happen to become the “bike capital of the world.” The Dutch made it that way.
I am a cyclist.
I improve my health by exercising regularly.
I support our local economy by stopping for interesting displays and sales instead of blindly driving by and through buying local parts and services instead of gasoline.
I save our tax dollars by using cheaper infrastructure and by lowering healthcare costs through preventative action.
I reduce our congestion by not sitting in traffic.
I clean our air by eliminating dirty exhaust.
I maintain our environment by demanding less space and emitting less pollution.
I increase our reputation by highlighting the livability of Seattle.
I passively advocate equal opportunity by actively promoting a cheaper, more accessible form of transit.
I relieve our stress by opting not to crowd onto overfull full buses.
I increase our ability to experience un-built environments because I demand little land use conversion.
I reduce your commute time because I do not make you sit in deadlock.
I reduce your transportation costs because I do not inflate demand.
I sometimes bend the rules and annoy you, but you sometimes bend the rules and annoy me.
We can live in harmony, and we must. Because cycling is here to stay.
I am a cyclist.
Please Mr. and Ms. Driver, show me some respect.